By: Mehremonīr Jahānbānī
Today the Baluch, while maintaining their tradi¬tional styles of clothing, work with an expanded palette of colorfully patterned commercial fabrics and threads. Local demand is increasingly satisfied by machine embroideries produced by men, who have introduced intricate stitches and new motifs. The increasing demand among urban and foreign connois¬seurs for hand embroideries, which take months to produce, has led women to specialize in this work for the marketplace Traditional men’s costume. The traditional costume worn by Baluch men is usually of white, cream, khaki, or light-gray cotton. The trousers are extremely wide, hanging in folds between the legs (plate cxlv). They are drawn in to a waistband and are tapered at the ankles. A loose shirt reaches to the knees or even lower and is worn over trousers. The older style has a round neckline with a buttoned opening on one shoulder. The more modern neckline has a collar and a buttoned opening down the front to the waist. Until the 1920s men in colder regions used to wear fully embroidered jackets over this basic costume. The material, woven by the men themselves, was of lamb’s wool or goat hair and was at most 40 cm wide. The women sewed these pieces into jackets, which they then embroidered with traditional motifs and colors. The headgear of men consists of a piece of cloth wrapped as a turban, which is gradually becoming less popular.
Traditional women’s dress. The women wear a straight, loose robe of cotton or light wool, extending to mid-calf. The simple round neckline is slit to the breastbone in front. Sleeves are long and loose and slightly tapered at the wrist. This robe is worn over loose-fitting trousers of a different color; the trousers are gathered at the waist with a drawstring and tapered at the ankles (plate cxlvi).
The most striking feature of the women’s costume is the hand embroidery covering the front of the dress and the cuffs of the sleeves and trousers. These embroidered pieces are prepared separately and later sewn onto the dresses. The piece for the front of the bodice (zī) is square and extends across the entire front from shoulders to waist. Another rectangular piece (koptān) extends from the waist to the hem of the dress and comes to a point at the top; the sides of this piece are left unstitched for approximately 30 cm, so that it can function as a large pocket. Two trapezoidal pieces 25 cm wide and 45 cm long are stitched onto the sleeves as cuffs, and two similar but slightly smaller pieces decorate the trouser hems.
A century ago silk thread was used for this fine needlework; the women raised the silkworms them¬selves; made the thread locally, then dyed it with vegetable dyes. Within the past century, however, cotton thread has been imported for this purpose, at first mostly from neighboring provinces of India and subsequently from Pakistan. The traditional colors used in the needlework were limited to six, the most important of which were two shades of red (a dark crimson and a lighter vermilion or orange); black and white were used to a lesser degree, with a few specks of green and blue. The material for these embroidered pieces was of a simple weave with clearly visible warp and weft threads, usually in a dark color.
The traditional embroidery technique remains the same. Initially the outline of each motif is sewn onto the back side of the material, a process called sīahkār. The outlines are then filled in with the various colors, each of which has its specific place in the design. The whole piece is worked from the back side, an arduous and lengthy process. When it is completed, the embroidery completely covers the base material (plate cxlvii).
There are approximately fifty to seventy motifs in Baluch embroidery (čakan-e balūčī), each with its own name, though the names may differ slightly in differ¬ent regions and simpler versions are identified by the names of the localities where they are made. In Persia this type of embroidery is practiced only by Baluch women and is still very much alive among the settled populations in Persian Baluchistan, especially in the villages of the central region and in the Āhorrān mountains. Within the last thirty years innovative techniques and about 390 new colors have been intro¬duced.
Until recently women’s headgear consisted simply of a rectangular piece of thin material (sarūk), em¬broidered on the edges with a simple pattern, which fell to a point just above the knees in back. Since the Revolution of 1358 Š./1979 women have been forced by the government to wear the čādor (q.v.), which covers their beautiful embroidered clothing entirely. Although economic conditions in Baluchistan are harsh, jewelry is accumulated by a woman and her family as a form of displayable wealth. Most pieces are crudely fashioned of silver, though gold is worn by those who can afford it. They are usually decorated with semiprecious stones, glass, or even plastic imita¬tions. The jewelry, which resembles that of the Turkmen and the women of Pakistan, includes headbands, chokers, necklaces, bracelets, earrings of various types, and nose ornaments.
[The author of this article first became interested in the textile arts of Baluchistan in 1960, and subse¬quently, in the course of numerous trips to that province, she acquainted herself with the traditional embroidery of Baluch women. She became a cham¬pion of this art, striving to make it better known outside Baluchistan. She also perceived areas in which the embroideries could be made more appeal¬ing, in terms of the variety of colors, designs, and materials. With her assistance, many Baluch women were able to find new outlets for their work in Tehran and abroad.]